Holiday benefit events on tap
KITTANNING - For the first time in 16 years, Armstrong County Area Agency on Aging's (ACAAA) annual Christmas Craft Bazaar, which started Nov. 16 and runs through Dec. 15, is not being held in a Market Street storefront.
"We've been in and out of every store on Market," said Dorothy Neighley, originator of the 21-year-old event and former ACAAA center supervisor. "It got to the point that people knew it must be getting close to October when they'd see me looking in all the store windows."
Yet, while business has slowed this season at the bazaar's less visible location at 156 N. McKean St., volunteers offered other possible reasons for its current sparse patronage.
"I think people would like to attribute it to other things, and while not being on Market Street might have a slight influence, I don't think it has that big of an impact," said Nancy Wright, the bazaar's current coordinator. "We're also talking about a recession that's going on, along with the fact that the sheer number of craft shows is increasing, and that puts pressure on all crafts shows."
Harry and June McElwain of Kittanning, bazaar volunteers for eight years, agreed that they had about half the business on the first day this year than what they had in 2000.
"The people just aren't spending money," said Harry. "Other craft shows aren't doing anything, either. Kittanning Township has a big craft sale out there, people didn't sell anything."
Neighley said she started the bizarre in November of 1980 with the intention of aiding elderly county crafters still wishing to engage in their yuletide art, but lacking the ability to get around conveniently.
At that point, the event lasted only a week. But over time, Neighley said ACAOA was able to attract more and more crafters and the event grew to its current size.
"There are senior citizens all over the county who participate; some of these people are homebound, but they make these crafts that they would like to share," said Neighley. "Everybody is always helpful, especially because it's for the older people in the community."
Financially, the project, which Neighley said normally averages around $11,000 per year, is geared almost exclusively toward the artist's who make it happen.
"It was never to be a money maker for the agency, just to keep participants active in the field," said Neighley.
According to Neighley, each crafter is assigned a number that appears on a tag attached to each of the items they submit. When an item sells, the tag is removed and kept on record by ACAOA, producing a total profit due back to the crafter at the end of the season.
"We get 10 percent of each sale to cover the space rental, utilities and expenses, and the rest goes to the crafters," said Neighley.
"It's definitely a service project, the agency does not make any money," said Wright. "It's an outlet for senior citizens who don't have any other way to distribute their artwork."
Volunteers responded similarly to the question of whether the terrorism factor could be having a detrimental effect on this normally much-anticipated seasonal businesses.
"There's uncertainty . . . they're still worried over Amtrak and the bombings, and I still think that has a lot to do with it," said Harry.
"Everybody says that the economy's down, people aren't spending their money," said June. "But then a lot of people say they don't know we're here, either."
Eyvette Fair of Kittanning, a five-year volunteer, said while many do look forward to the bazaar opening annually, there are still hundreds who don't even know it exists.
Neighley, who will herself be volunteering at the bazaar next week, said stagnant business is a problem confined not only to the borough.
"Even the malls are having this problem; maybe buyers just haven't gotten the fever yet," said Neighley. "(Terrorism) might be the reason, I think it slowed everything down, but I hope that's just a temporary thing.
"Americans are really great at picking up and doing, and I hope that happens again soon."